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Lesser-Known Effects of COVID-19

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Lesser-Known Effects of COVID-19

COVID-19 has fast become an everyday, household name. Daily reports on the news; displays of hand sanitizer, masks and gloves in drugstores; and signs everywhere reminding us to wear masks and wash our hands have become the norm.  Many of us spend time, too, worrying about every sniffle or scratchy throat and wondering if we should call the doctor to get tested or if we need to quarantine. Most of us are well aware of COVID-19 symptoms and are doing our part to avoid infection. 

But COVID-19 has some lesser-known, more unusual aspects to it in terms of symptoms, mental health, cost and daily habits. What are they? And what can you do about them? Read on.

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Unusual COVID-19 symptoms 

Fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat and headache: these are the COVID-19 symptoms that have been drilled into us since the start of the pandemic. And rightly so, as they ARE the most common symptoms. However, there are other, lesser-known and less-common symptoms of COVID-19 to also know about. 

The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, can affect multiple tissues and organs in the body, not just the respiratory system. While these effects aren’t as well known, scientists and health experts are increasingly becoming more familiar with them. They include: 

Skin rashes 

A “COVID-19 rash” may look like a patchy rash, itchy bumps, blisters, pinpoint spots, or flat spots and bumps joined together, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association. The rash may or may not be itchy and it typically lasts between 2 to 12 days. A lacey-looking purple rash is another possible sign of COVID-19 and can indicate blood clotting in blood vessels. A dermatologist can provide more guidance and treatment of these rashes. 

COVID toes

Children, teens and young adults are more likely to develop this condition compared with adults, and many either have no other symptoms or the symptoms are mild. COVID-toe symptoms include red or purple bumps on the toes (and sometimes the hands), along with a burning sensation, itchiness and possibly pain and tenderness. Symptoms tend to go away after 2 to 3 weeks, but some people have symptoms for months. Hydrocortisone cream can help reduce any pain or itching. 

Gastrointestinal symptoms

The coronavirus can also cause GI symptoms, such as diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, stomach pain and bleeding. Researchers believe that the virus enters the gastrointestinal system (which is part of the immune system), causing these symptoms. Diarrhea tends to be the most common GI-related symptom of COVID-19. Vomiting tends to be more common in children. Of course, these symptoms can occur due to other illnesses and conditions. If you do develop any of these symptoms and they are mild, stay home, drink plenty of fluids, eat bland foods and minimize contact with others. Be sure to check your blood sugars regularly. Call your provider if symptoms are more severe or are worsening, or if you are having frequent high or low blood sugars. 

Loss of smell and taste

According to U.S. News and World Report, 86% of people with mild to moderate COVID-19 reported problems with their sense of smell and a similar amount noticed a change in taste. In fact, loss of smell is sometimes the first and only symptom of those diagnosed with COVID-19. Loss of smell can directly impact your sense of taste (think back to when you have a bad cold and how food seems tasteless), and this loss can occur suddenly in people with COVID-19. While the exact reason for this isn’t entirely clear, it IS known that some viruses enter the olfactory (smell) neurons, causing inflammation. In most cases, the sense of smell returns within two to four weeks, but for some, smell loss may be long-term. Talk with your primary-care provider if you are experiencing loss of smell and/or taste. 

Loneliness 

Loneliness is nothing new and it’s certainly existed long before the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, one in five Americans say they feel lonely or socially isolated (and that’s WITHOUT the COVID-19 pandemic). Living alone, being unmarried, not participating in social groups and having few friends are risk factors for loneliness as well as an increased risk of early death.  

Now comes along a pandemic with its lockdowns, quarantines and social distancing that serves to exacerbate the problem of loneliness. Health experts have been concerned about not just the physical health ramifications of COVID-19, but the mental health consequences, as well. Social distancing affects all of us, to some extent, but those with loneliness are more likely to have more depression, Alzheimer’s disease, alcoholism, chronic stressand poor sleep quality. Suicide rates are higher in those who are lonely, too, according to an article published in 2014 in the Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research. As the authors state, “Left untended, loneliness can have serious consequences for mental and physical health.” In addition, young adults, students, people with lower education or income, and urban residents are more likely to experience loneliness due to the pandemic, per a September 2020 study published in the journal Public Health. 

If you’re feeling lonely more so than ever or just feeling a case of cabin fever, take heart, as there are steps that you can take to get through this time of isolation.  

  • Make time to de-stress by practicing deep breathing, doing some stretches or meditating. 
  • Stick to a schedule. It can help to plan your day and keep a diary of what you did and how you’re feeling. 
  • Stay informed but limit the amount of time watching or listening to the news or spending time on social media. 
  • Connect with others. Phone calls, video chats, texting or even letter writing can help you stay in touch and feel less isolated.  
  • Turn to or develop a hobby. Boredom enhances loneliness, so spending time doing something that occupies your time (cooking, knitting, painting or reading are examples) can help keep loneliness at bay. To increase social connections, choose a hobby or interest that involves others, such as an online class or virtual museum tour, for example.  
  • If you miss talking with people, try QuarantineChat, a free service that lets you talk with others on the phone. For more information, visit the QuarantineChat website.

If loneliness, stress, depression or anxiety worsens, let your healthcare provider know. You can also get more immediate help through these resources listed on the CDC’s website.

COVID-19 surcharges 

As businesses began re-opening, you probably saw some additional fees tacked on to your receipts or bills. These are surcharges that many businesses have added to offset the cost of cleaning and personal protective equipment (PPE). 

Some of these fees are relatively minimal, such as an additional three dollars at the hair salon, for example. Other fees may be much higher, such as a $25 fee added on to a dental cleaning bill to cover the cost of PPE. Insurance may or may not cover healthcare-related fees. 

While many people have no objections to paying these surcharges, which can help support businesses, some surcharges may be more than other people can afford. What can you do? Acorn’s website has a few tips that may be helpful. 

  • Shop around. If a restaurant, barber shop or dental practice has implemented surcharges that are out of your reach, call and ask about any surcharges before you go. If the fee seems out of reach for you, call other businesses that may not have any fees or that may charge a smaller fee. 
  • Ask what the surcharge covers. If, for example, the fee is for the use of hand sanitizer or masks, offer to bring your own.  
  • Budget for the fees. Fees and surcharges may be here to stay, at least for a while, so be creative as to how you’ll handle them. Stretch out your haircuts or cut back on dining out and do more cooking at home 

Emotional eating 

This year has been particularly stressful in so many ways. Staying at home more and feeling isolated can definitely increase feelings of stress and anxiety, and not surprisingly, many people turn to food for comfort. 

Emotional eating, meaning, eating as a response to an emotional state rather than hunger, can become a way to cope. In addition, constant stress increases levels of cortisol that can boost appetite and blood sugars, and cause you to eat more than usual. And binge-watching your favorite Netflix shows as a way to reduce boredom or stress can also trigger the urge to eat. 

How to stop emotional eating

How can you keep emotional eating in check? 

  • Pay attention to signs of hunger and fullness. Ask yourself if you’re eating because you’re hungry or because you’re bored/stressed/anxious, etc. Try using the hunger scale, which ranks your hunger level on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being ravenous and 10 being super-stuffed. Ideally, hovering around 5 means that you are comfortably sated, or full. 
  • Practice mindful eating. This means eating and doing nothing else like scrolling on social media or watching TV. Be in the moment and pay attention to the taste, smell and texture of your food. Focus on slowing your eating and using the hunger scale to help you know when you’re full. 
  • Aim to get enough sleep, especially if your daily schedule is completely different than pre-pandemic. Getting between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night what most adults need.  
  • Stick to a routine and be sure to fit physical activity in, even if it’s dancing, marching in place or using exercise videos 
  • Reach out to others if feelings of isolation are causing you to overeat. 
  • Do your best to keep healthy foods in your home. If you like to snack when watching TV, reach for low-carb veggies and sugar-free beverages that can fill you up without an excess of calories and carbs.  

Want to learn more about coronavirus and diabetes? Read “Coronavirus and Diabetes: A COVID-19 Update,” “Healthy Eating During Hard Times” and “COVID-19: Staying Safe at Work.”

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES on social media

A Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Good Measures, LLC, where she is a CDE manager for a virtual diabetes program. Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition & Meal Planning, a co-author of 16 Myths of a Diabetic Diet, and has written for  publications including Diabetes Self-Management, Diabetes Spectrum, Clinical Diabetes, the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation’s newsletter, DiabeticConnect.com, and CDiabetes.com

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